Born in Sweden before moving to New Orleans in his teens, songwriter Anders Osborne has been heralded by nearly every publication in the Crescent City. Guitar Player magazine even went as far as to call him the "poet laureate of Louisiana." His music has touched countless artists from the bayou swamps over the past three decades, and his squad of world-class musicians consider him a peer without comparison.
So when discussing the world travels Osborne took as a young man throughout much of Asia and Europe before settling back in the Gulf Coast, one might assume that they were musical in nature. Perhaps he was learning new techniques from guitar masters, or studying under renowned songwriters? "I was a skateboarder. I wanted to move to California and skateboard — that was my only thought at the time," Osborne explains with a laugh. "I had a period where I was enamored with the Ramones and the Sex Pistols as well, but deserted swimming pools and building U-ramps were really what I was after."
For Osborne, traveling was a spiritual journey that centered on finding his place in the universe. "I was able to study Buddhism in Thailand and try to figure out what that was," he says. "At the time I wasn't ready, but I tried. I also did a lot of meditation and soul-searching around California. The traveling was more about an internal quest."
Throughout his musical career, Osborne has managed to dip a toe into the world of jazz, but never truly attempted to pass himself off as a "real" jazz musician. He's also made many friends in that world and has both helped and gotten help from those same friends when needed. But the singer has always been steadfast in keeping his guitar-playing firmly within the rock community.
Osborne elaborates, "I think the closest my music ever got to jazz was a mixture of a New Orleans second-line jazz band's approach to jazz and the world of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers. That was as close as it ever got, just from all of the improvising that was being done. I think the actual skill and dexterity needed to play jazz, I never really took the time to learn to play that. I stayed with my rock 'n' roll heart on my sleeve for the most part."
While he's made a name for himself as a premiere talent within the walls of the Big Easy without a strong jazz background, Osborne has never taken the easy road of putting a band together and slapping a generic N'awlins name on as a moniker. "I think it's important to be true to yourself, but make sure you pay attention to what everyone else is doing, because there is a lot of good stuff going on all around you," Osborne explains. "I don't know about getting a following per se, but you can get work. It's a combination of things. You never really know what the masses are going to like, what they're going to go for. I think that's a beautiful, intangible mystery that I still can't figure out. I know that you learn how to be very open when you play in cities like New York City or New Orleans — musical Meccas so to speak. When everyone is really good at what they do and have an ear for each other, they want to play with each other and exchange musical ideas all of the time. Especially here in New Orleans, there is music surrounding you on every corner. You develop your chops, your ability to create a rapport with your audience, and that begins to attract people all by itself."
Osborne music continues to attract people to his music. Throughout a career that has spanned making award-winning albums, writing for country music's biggest stars, and topping Billboard's Blues and Heatseekers charts with his own records, Osborne continues to fill venues across the country. After a few years away from the massive touring schedules that once defined his career, he finds himself back on the endless road.
But whereas early in life he went in search of inner peace, now the singer — who has fought to overcome addictions — surrounds himself with those who can help ensure that it finds him on every stop on the itinerary.
"The first three full years on the road definitely weren't easy," Osborne says. "I have a strong program behind me, though, with lots of recovery friends and phone numbers. I use the Big Book and all of the tools that I've been given, and using them has helped me to remain sober and remain happy. The first thing you have to do is not be afraid, not be fearful in either recovery or life in general. I designed my band and crew with people I trust, that I know respect my struggle. I'm surrounded by people that understand my road performance and road experience. It took a while to figure that out, to be honest with you, but that's been my process. The more you work on that, the safer and more harmonious your touring becomes."
EDIT: We misprinted the date in the paper. This show is on Sun. Feb. 14.